A Modern-Day Tochachah

V’hifla Hashem es makosecha v’es makos zarecha (Devarim 28:59)

In 2006, Harav Yitzchok Dovid Grossman, the Chief Rabbi of Migdal HaEmek, was visited by Moti Dotan, the head of the Lower Galilee regional council. Moti Dotan told him that he had recently been in Germany to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a twin-city arrangement between the regional council and the district of Hanover. During his time there, a member of the Hanover district council approached him and told him that his elderly father, Werner Herzig, had died a few weeks previously. When his father was on his deathbed, he confessed to his son that he had played an active role in the Holocaust.

He told his son that he was an officer in the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, during World War II, and he gave him his military ID card, which was stored in a small case made out of parchment. As for the reason that the case was made from this unusual material, the father explained that when he was helping to burn a synagogue, he discovered a Torah scroll written on parchment. He decided to cut out a small section of the parchment in order to fashion from it a cover for his ID card.

Many years later, the father found out that the scroll from which he had cut the parchment is considered holy to the Jewish people, so just before his death, he instructed his son to give it to a Jew so that it could be brought to a Rabbi in Israel, who would know what to do with it. The son gave Moti Dotan the case, and when he returned to Israel, he brought it to Rav Grossman. When Rav Grossman examined the section of parchment that had been desecrated and transformed into a wallet, he began to cry.

The verses on the parchment were from Parashas Ki Savo, and they read (Devarim 28:57–62): “If you will not be careful to perform all the words of this Torah that are written in this Book … then Hashem will make extraordinary your blows and the blows of your offspring … He will bring back upon you all the sufferings of Egypt … Even any illness and any blow that is not written in this Book of the Torah, Hashem will bring upon you, until you are destroyed. You will be left few in number … for you will not have hearkened to the voice of Hashem, your G-d.”

Out of all the verses and sections in the Torah from which the case could have been made, it was specifically fashioned from the harsh and threatening verses of rebuke in Parashas Ki Savo. Rav Grossman commented that this episode reminded him of a similar story that is recorded in Sefer Melachim (2:22).

Yoshiyahu became king at the age of eight after his father was assassinated. Although his father Amon and grandfather Menashe were wicked kings who had done their utmost to eliminate every vestige of religion from the Jewish people, Yoshiyahu was a righteous king and did not follow in their footsteps. He repaired the Beis Hamikdash and restored its functioning, and in the 18th year of his reign, the Kohen Gadol, Chilkiyahu, discovered a sefer Torah that was hidden in the Temple so that Yoshiyahu’s predecessors could not burn it, as they did the other Torah scrolls.

Chilkiyahu gave the scroll to Yoshiyahu’s royal scribe, who read it aloud to the king from the place to which it had been rolled when it was hidden away. When Yoshiyahu heard the words of the Torah, he was so shaken that he tore his garments in mourning. What did the scribe read that caused the king to react in this manner? Rashi explains that he read the verse in the rebuke in Parashas Ki Savo which states (28:36), “Hashem will carry both you and your king whom you will set up over yourself to a nation you never knew — neither you nor your forefathers — and there you will work for the gods of others — of wood and of stone.” Yoshiyahu interpreted this as a Divine message and cried out, “It is incumbent upon us to uphold the Torah,” and he immediately instituted a national movement to repent and return to Hashem.

Rav Grossman connected the two incidents, as each case was a clear example of hashgachah pratis exhorting people to repent their sins. Taking this one step further, Harav Yissocher Frand suggests that even without Torah scrolls threatening us with unimaginable punishments, the events unfolding around us daily lead to the inescapable conclusion that our only hope to be saved from the geopolitical and socioeconomic chaos that surrounds us is to wholeheartedly return to Hashem, a message which is applicable throughout the year, and is even more apropos as we prepare for the impending Yom Hadin.

Q: The section (26:1–11) detailing the laws governing bikurim contains every letter in the Hebrew alphabet except one. Which letter is missing, and why?

A: The Baal HaTurim points out that this section contains every letter except for samech. This alludes to the Talmudic teaching (Chullin 137b) that although there is no minimum Biblical amount which a farmer is required to bring to fulfill the obligation of bikurim, the Sages instituted that he should bring one-sixtieth of his harvest. This is alluded to by the absence of the letter samech, which has a numerical value of 60. Additionally, the Torah uses an unusual word when instructing the farmer to bring his first-fruits in a basket — teneh — to the Kohen. This is because the numerical value of the word teneh — basket — is 60.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.